Note: this originally appeared on my Marketing Takeout site last January.
One of my favorite places to shop is the Ruehl store, Abercrombie’s trendy, high end retail concept store. Actually it WAS one of my favorite places, however they have closed down due to poor sales. I was bummed, because I have always loved the whole branding, retail experience and vision of Michael Jeffries, the CEO of A&F.
Abercrombie used to be the only game in town because no other retailer offered anything close to the products or experience. But soon the market was flooded with “me-too” products and copy cats, all offering similar products a lot cheaper.
Abercrombie’s product selection has changed very little in the past few years. Plus consumer buying behavior has changed and people are no longer willing to pay high prices for a brand name, especially when similar options are available for a lot less. Abercrombie has resisted cutting their prices and running sales until recently, however low prices and sales are not a good competitive edge, unless your Walmart.
Many in the photography industry are struggling to adapt to new consumer habits. It’s not just the recession, in fact there are many studios that have continued to thrive even this past year. Customers are looking for and expect more. Anyone can buy a camera and take a picture, and the industry is flooded with photographers who have picked up a camera from Best Buy and put up a website. And many working for third world wages by charging next to nothing for their work. I’m not going to get into dirt cheap amateurs who are butchering the market. There is a good article here that covers that.
The fact is, nobody really needs your service, and if someone can get the same thing or almost the same thing cheaper, they will choose cheaper every time.
What can be learned from Abercrombie?
1. If you are still offering the same things you were, you are behind. What do you offer that no other studio does? What makes you unique? And most importantly why should I choose you as my photographer when there are all these other cheaper or more unique options.
2. Abercrombie’s in store experience is still one of the best in my opinion, for all of their brands. Each lifestyle concept store inspires you to want to explore and is an escape into the aspirational world of the brand story. Each store concept is clear about who their target market is. Hollister and Ruehl do this brilliantly.
The Hollister store has fared better this past year then the other Abercrombie brands. The clothing is priced right and the products and experience are unique and cannot be found anywhere else. Yet.
3. Create urgency and fear of losing out. Yesterday I talked about Buckle and their fresh product mix and customer service. The price of a pair of jeans at Abercrombie is about the same price as a pair of jeans at the Buckle. So why are Buckle customers more willing to shell out money and think they are getting a better deal?
The Buckle jeans won’t be around in two months, Abercrombie’s jeans will – there’s no urgency. If you shop at the Buckle you know those jeans won’t be sitting there 8 months later, so you don’t wait for sale.
Plus, if you want something similar to Abercrombie, you can go to American Eagle or Aeropostale and get the same thing cheaper. Two years ago, none of my high school senior clients wore American Eagle, it wasn’t cool. This year, many of them did, and I didn’t see a lot of Abercrombie. Cheaper was cool this year.
You get the point. You always have to stay one step ahead. You can’t stay the same. You have to offer something unique that can’t be found anywhere else. And you can’t compete on price. There will always be someone cheaper.